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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAX                                                                       jQ£
Leaning against the windowsill, Alexei opened the let-
ter and the further he read the lengthy epistle, which
Gvozdev had written at the railway station the night
before, the gloomier his face became. Gvozdev wrote that
Anyuta had turned out to be exactly as he had pictured
her, that she was probably the prettiest girl in Moscow,
that she had met him like a brother, and that he liked
her more than ever.
"...But the thing we talked about turned out exactly
as we said. She is a good girl She did not say a word
to me, and did not even hint at anything. She behaved
like a brick. But I am not blind. I could see that my
blasted, ugly face frightened her. Everything seemed to
be all right, but suddenly I would see her looking at me
as if she were ashamed, or frightened, or sorry for meó
I can't say which.... She took me to her university. It
would have been better if I had not gone. The girl
students gathered round and stared at me.... Would you
believe it? They knew all of us! Anyuta had told them
all about us. ... I could see that she was looking at them
apologetically as much as to say: 'Forgive me for bring-
ing this fright here.' But the main thing, Alyosha, is that
she tried to hide her feelings: she was so nice and kind
to me, and kept on talking and talking as if afraid to
stop. Then we went to her place. She lives alone. Her
parents have gone away with the evacuees. Evidently,
they are quite respectable people. She made me some tea
and while at the table she kept looking at my reflection
in the nickel kettle and sighing. To cut it short, I thought
to myself: 'Well, this can't go on.' I put it to her straight:
'I can see that my appearance is not to your liking. You
are right. I can understand. I am not offended.' She burst
into tears, but I said to her: 'Don't cry. You are a nice
girl. Anybody could fall in love with you. Why ruin
your life?' Then I said to her: 'Now you see what a
beauty I am. Think it over. I will return to my unit and
will send you my address. If you don't change your mind,
write to me.' And I also said to her: 'Don't make your-
self do anything you don't want to. I'm here today and
there tomorrowówe're at war.' Of course, she says: 'Oh,
no, no!' and goes on crying. Just then the blasted siren
began to screech. She went out and I took advantage of